Understanding Bone Metastasis

Bone metastasis is when an area of bone has cancer that spread there from another part of the body. Cancer occurs when cells in the body change and grow out of control. These cells can form lumps called tumors. Cancer starts in a specific part of the body (the primary site). Cancer cells can break away from a tumor and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. They spread by traveling through the blood or through lymph vessels. Certain types of cancer are more likely to spread to the bone than others. These include cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, kidneys, and thyroid.

How to say it


What causes bone metastasis?

Experts don’t know exactly why cancer spreads to the bones. It is thought that bones have proteins, hormones, or other substances that attract cancer cells. The structure and makeup of the bones may also make it easier for cancer cells to attach and grow. Once cancer settles in the bones, the bones may get weak or hard. This can cause pain and make the bones more likely to break.  

Symptoms of bone metastasis

Symptoms often occur with bone metastasis. But they can vary based on the location and number of bones affected. They can also vary depending on if the bones have already become weak or hard. Possible symptoms include:

  • Bone pain

  • Broken bones

  • Numbness, weakness, and problems with the bladder or bowel if the tumor presses on the spinal cord

  • Extreme tiredness, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, hard stools, confusion, poor memory, frequent thirst, or the need to urinate often if there is too much calcium in the blood

Treatment for bone metastasis

Treatment for bone metastasis is focused on easing symptoms and slowing the spread of the cancer. Options may include:

  • Medicines. These may be prescribed to help ease pain and other symptoms. They may also prevent or reduce bone damage.

  • Hormonal therapy. Special medicines are used to prevent certain hormones the body makes from helping cancer cells grow.

  • Targeted therapy. Special medicines are used to attack and kill cancer cells. They also limit the damage to healthy cells.

  • Radiation therapy. High-energy X-rays are used to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.

  • Chemotherapy. Strong medicines are used to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.

  • Ablation. Heat or cold are used to destroy cancer cells.

  • Surgery. Different types of surgery may be used to stabilize or repair bones.

Possible complications of bone metastasis

Bone metastasis is a complication of the underlying cancer in the body. If the cancer continues to spread, it can keep causing symptoms and eventually lead to death.


To learn more about bone metastasis, these resources may help:

  • American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org, 800-227-2345

  • National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov, 800-422-6237